It’s pretty rare for these two extremely successful MLS sides to be battling it out for the bottom of the table in the East, but that’s just the scenario when DC United takes on the Fire at RFK Saturday night (since TFC is winning as I write this). United is three games into its so far pointless campaign, while the Fire have managed only one point in their first three matches. Obviously, the loser of this match will be in a serious hole barely a month into the season and even a tie doesn’t do either side much good.
So, it’s a good thing DC United holds some sort of spell over the Fire in the regular season especially at RFK. DC hasn’t lost to the Fire at home in over 3 years since the meaningless last game of the season in 2006 (after the SS was wrapped up). Overall, United is an incredible 11-4-5 against the Fire lifetime at RFK. In fact, that loss in 2006 was the last regular season loss against the Fire anywhere as DC has gone 6-0-3 against the Fire over the past three seasons, including 5 wins in the past 6 matches the two teams have played.
It’s amazing to think that two teams in the same division for so long would have such a radical edge over the other, but for some reason DC does hold some sort of good juju over the Fire in the regular season. And there have been some wild matches between these two clubs too: Emilio’s stoppage time winner in 2008, Pickens ducking out of the way of a Moreno tying goal in 84th minute in 2007, Olsen setting up the tying goal and scoring the winner both in stoppage time to beat the Stoitchkov led Fire in the hammering rain in 2000. Boswell scoring the winner, off a David Stokes assist no less, in the 86th minute for a 4-3 win in another downpour in 2006.
Boswell’s certainly not the most unusual scorer for DC either. Simms (3 goals lifetime) and Namoff (4) both have game winning goals over the Fire. Sparse scoring guys like Brian Carroll (2), Agoos (6), Earnie Stewart (4), and Petke (5) all have goals against the Fire, even Judah Cooks (2) has scored and got ejected in the same game against the Fire. Dema even had more goals (3) than ejections (2) against the Fire! But those aren’t even the strangest scorers; Lightning Rod Dyachenko, Nana Kuffour and Galin Ivanov all scored their only MLS goals against the Fire. You can’t make this stuff up, I’m telling you.
While Moreno leads all DC scorers with 9 goals against the Fire, it’s almost too bad DC doesn’t bring back some recently departed players just for this match, though. Gomez owned the Fire (in the regular season of course) with 7 goals, 6 assists in 13 games against the Fire. Plus Emilio had 4 goals in 7 games, and Olsen had 4 game winning goals against the Fire including his first ever MLS goal in 1998.
So, throw the form book aside for this match as almost anything could happen, but at least it’s most likely going to happen in DC’s favor. Which is good since DC’s injury and suspension list heading into this match is well into midseason form. Simms, Namoff, Pena, and Jakovic are all out for DC, and it seems likely Barklage will be out too with a concussion. Given DC’s history of concussions and the fact rushing back from them can be a career threatening move, I can’t see him playing. All of which devastates DC’s defense even though they seem to be getting McTavish back just in time.
Now, even though the Fire are struggling and Blanco is gone, it still seems a bit frightening that McBride, Collins John, Nyarko and Pappa will be going at a backline of McTavish, Talley, James, and Wallace. Especially since Barklage won’t be in midfield to help out Morsinck. Actually, an interesting move might be to play McTavish in central midfield with Morsinck to help clean up in front of that back four, but then that forces a rookie like Graye or Adams or Rice or even Andy Najar into that right back, none of which seems that promising. Still, it might work out better overall.
However, while Chicago’s offense seems to be powerful, they are not playing that way. Chicago was shut out in NY, scored two in a weird game in Colorado, and barely scored one at home last week losing to SJ. So, they’ve only scored three goals to United’s two on the season, and their problems are actually very similar to DC’s scoring woes in that they have too many one way players in midfield. Especially without their key central players Thorrington and Pause who is recently back on the injured list and will miss this match most likely.
So, Cobos has tried Lowery, Husidic, and even rookie Corben Bone in those central roles, but nothing is really clicking yet, which is good news for whatever makeshift central midfield Onalfo comes up with. Maybe Onalfo sees an advantage centrally and decides to keep Quaranta in there and starts Pontius on the right side of midfield giving Castillo another chance on the left. That might seriously work out very well depending on how Chicago lines up.
Cobos has also had some trouble figuring out a left back having used Banner, Krol, and now the Salvadoran Umanzor to varying degrees of failure. So, who DC sends down that right side could be crucial as that seems to be their weakest link. Still, the rest of the backline is pretty set with Conde, CJ Brown and Ward, and the Fire have only given up five goals, while DC is averaging three goals against a game, so maybe weak link is a bit of a relative term.
Anyway, on paper DC doesn’t seem to match up too well with the Fire. The Fire’s offense should be better than DC’s defense, especially McBride and John against Talley and James. But DC’s midfield should have the edge over the Fire especially in whatever area Onalfo decides to use Quaranta. If DC”s midfield can swing enough support for Allsopp and Moreno against Brown and Conde, DC could have an edge there. I know one thing I can’t wait to see Allsopp and Brown going at it like two cats in a sack. That will be epic.
Playing in RFK and soccer gods willing, DC seems to have a good shot at all the points, though. Especially if Chicago continues to sputter and DC gets their act together. Plus, if history is any judge and considering the patchy lineups on both sides, this one could easily be a barnburner. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see Morsinck get the winner for first MLS goal. Anything might happen when these two teams meet.